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LA Wins City Nature Challenge

California Mountain Kingsnake and Mission Blue Butterfly submitted to as part of the City Nature Challenge
California Mountain Kingsnake and Mission Blue Butterfly submitted to as part of the City Nature Challenge

Hooray for LA! With more than 10,353 observations, Los Angeles won the City Nature Challenge, edging out San Francisco, where citizen scientists logged 9,389 observations submitted to the free app iNaturalist. All together, more than 20,000 observations were submitted and tracked by iNaturalist during the one week Challenge.

The City Nature Challenge was a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s new Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC). It invited citizen scientists in Northern and Southern California to submit pictures of plants, animals, and fungi using the iNaturalist app. From San Francisco, highlights included sightings of two endangered, iconic Bay area species, the Mission Blue butterfly and the San Francisco garter snake. In Los Angeles, P-22 —the famed Griffith Park mountain lion—appeared on trap camera footage on the last night of the contest.

Though it was a competition, it was really more of a friendly collaboration between the two institutions, to see if they could get more engagement from their respective communities to observe and record nearby nature. By all accounts, the challenge was a huge success.

According to NHM, the City Nature Challenge recorded a total of 19,800 observations of nature to iNaturalist. This same week last year, there were only 2,397 observations made on iNaturalist in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County combined, meaning the Challenge sparked a more than eight-fold increase in total observations for the two cities.

Across both regions, City Nature Challenge contributors found 2,544 species, 617 of which were found in both the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County, highlighting our shared species (like western fence lizards and our state flower, the California poppy).

Here are more details, courtesy of NHM:

In San Francisco:

  • 444 citizen scientists submitted observations in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • 9,389 observations submitted to iNaturalist from the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Contributors averaged 21 observations.
  • 1,551 species documented.
  • Top contributors were citizen scientists Trent Pearse and “DiRebecca”. Pearse is a photographer and East Bay Regional Park Naturalist, who made 262 observations of over 185 species. ‘DiRebecca’ is army veteran and naturalist from Sonoma County. She is also a volunteer with the Fairfield Osborn Preserve and the Point Reyes National Seashore and made 229 observations of 183 species.
  • Most observed species was the California poppy.
  • Four out of five most observed species are California native plants.

In Los Angeles:

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti got involved, making a video for the challenge and submitting a snail observation. Musician Moby contributed several observations, including hummingbirds from his backyard.
  • 574 citizen scientists submitted observations in Los Angeles.
  • 10,353 observations in total were submitted in Los Angeles.
  • Contributors averaged 18 observations.
  • 1,601 species documented
  • Top contributor is citizen scientist James Bailey, a recent high school graduate with 783 submissions.
  • Citizen scientist Cedric Lee, a UCLA student, submitted 720 observations including a picture of an imperiled native snail, Glyptostoma gabrielense.
  • Most observed species was the native Western Fence Lizard. The next four most observed species are non-native, two of which (Fox squirrels and Garden snails) are foci of UNRC research projects.

And, in case you wanted to know, below are the top 10 observations – five from San Fransisco and five from LA compiled by NHM’s Urban Nature Research Center.

From Los Angeles:

Mating alligator lizards
Photographs not only inform scientists where organisms can be found, but they can also provide critical information about behavior. NHM scientists are using citizen science observations to understand the timing of mating season in alligator lizards. The male grips the female on her neck in a mating hold, and they may stay in this position for many hours. Citizen scientist “marlainab” observed one pair on the Occidental College campus  on April 16 and Kat Halsey observed another pair in Griffith Park on April 20. Both were observed during an unusually late (for Southern California), mid-April peak in breeding activity.

(Maybe) Tandonia budapestensis
This could be one of a few records of this species for the first time in Southern California. The ID of this slug and a close relative is tricky, but it looks like it is Tandonia budapestensis, a slug that has established itself as a non-native outside of its home range of Eastern Europe. It is one of many non-native slugs that lives synanthropically, that is, within human-made habitats.

Gopher snake and ladybug

Interspecies friends.

Mountain Kingsnake
Devon Lang Pryor, a staff member with the Santa Barbara Zoo who volunteers with the National Park Service on California Red-legged Frog reintroduction efforts, was hiking into a frog reintroduction site when she came across a Mountain Kingsnake. These beautiful snakes are infrequently seen in the Santa Monica Mountains. Only 15 had previously been submitted to iNaturalist from Los Angeles County. This one had just come down to a stream to get a drink of water.

Glyptostoma gabrielense

Good news for this San Gabriel Valley native. This species has a NatureServe listing of Imperiled, so evidence of it alive is a great thing!

From San Francisco:

Botta’s pocket gopher
Botta’s pocket gophers are ubiquitous in the San Francisco Bay Area, but this observation of a particularly camera-ready animal was made by iNaturalist co-founder Ken-ichi Ueda in the very first hour of the City Nature Challenge. Ueda spotted the gopher while out observing with other California Academy of Sciences staff to celebrate the start of this competition. Housed and financially supported by the Academy, the technology of and community on iNaturalist made the City Nature Challenge possible.

San Francisco garter snake
This subspecies of garter snake is endangered and only found in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Only an estimated 1,000–2,000 adult San Francisco garter snakes remain in the region, making every sighting cause for celebration.

Marseniopsis sharonae sea snail
Inspired by one of their citizen science volunteer’s recent find of a species of nudibranch (sea slug) new to North America on a San Francisco dock, California Academy of Sciences’ citizen science managers Alison Young and Rebecca Johnson decided to explore some docks to document species for the City Nature Challenge. This charming sea snail, which looks more like a slug than a snail, had never before been observed on iNaturalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Mission Blue butterfly
Once relatively common in coastal scrubland and grassland habitats from San Francisco, Marin, and San Mateo counties, the Mission Blue was one of the first insects ever placed on the Endangered Species list, due to habitat loss, in 1976. Inspirational teacher and naturalist  Liam O’Brien has worked tirelessly to save this and other butterflies in the San Francisco Bay Area. This week, O’Brien captured photos of Plebejus icarioides ssp.missionensis’ host plants, food plants, and its eggs.

Nodding Needle grass
This is only the second observation on iNaturalist of this imperiled California native grass in the San Francisco Bay Area. This grass species, like many others in the California Floristic Province, has declined due to encroachment of introduced grass species.

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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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